No matter your age or occupation, you should never stop learning. Whether it’s in school, at work, or for some other purpose, new material enriches and broadens the mind. Still, effective study habits can be tricky, especially as you get older. In order to learn better and more efficiently retain what you’ve studied, it helps to go about it smartly.
1. Have a Schedule
As with a lot of aspects of our lives, having a proper plan and schedule will help keep you organized and focused. That can be easier said than done, of course. It’s one thing to create a schedule, and another matter to stick to it. Still, creating a schedule is at least a start. Central Michigan University recommends that “Study time is any time you are doing something related to schoolwork. It can be completing assigned reading, working on a paper or project, or studying for a test. Schedule specific times throughout the week for your study time.”
Starting a good habit can be difficult, but one thing that helps is routine. Having study time at the same time every day makes it easier to maintain a study habit, just like with any other routine building experience. For example, listening to an audiobook or podcast during the commute to work, or examining notes at lunch can help start a good study habit. Creating such a habit will take some time, so don’t get discouraged if you falter at first. This is especially true if you have other factors like kids or pets you need to take into account.
On the other side of this, you need to continue to maintain the route even when less material to study is present. As by EducationCorner, “Even if you’re all caught up with your studies, creating a weekly routine, where you set aside a period of time a few days a week, to review your courses will ensure you develop habits that will enable you to succeed in your education long term.” They also note that “Not only is it important that you plan when you’re going to study, but it’s also important you create a consistent, daily study routine. When you study at the same time each day and each week, you’re studying will become a regular part of your life.”
As important as schedules and plans are, they are just part of proper study habits.
2. Set Goals
Establishing a set time and place to study is a great start for effective study habits, but the actual studying part can still cause stress and concern. Instead of staring at a blank page or the words in a book, make sure to have a goal in mind for each study session. Central Michigan notes that “Goals will help you stay focused and monitor your progress. Simply sitting down to study has little value. You must be very clear about what you want to accomplish during your study times.”
For example, filling a set number of pages in a worksheet or reading a single chapter of a section in a book are good goals. The goal you set should be achievable but not overly easy, although starting small is a good way to test how much time your studying will take. The goals you set should take the time allotment into account as well. Adjusting goals to meet your needs might require some trial and error or schedule adjustments. Don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to build the right study habits.
3. Stay Focused
It can be hard to focus on studying, especially for those with attention disorders or other distractions at home. As noted by EducationCorner, “Everyone gets distracted by something. Maybe it’s the TV. Or maybe it’s your family. Or maybe it’s just too quiet. Some people actually study better with a little background noise. When you’re distracted while studying you (1) lose your train of thought and (2) are unable to focus — both of which will lead to very ineffective studying.”
Setting up or finding a dedicated location to study is a great start to staying focused and form strong study habits. Where that location is and what helps you focus depends on you and your habits, obviously. Some people need a quiet office space to focus. Others might prefer background music with noise-cancelling headphones to keep their mind on the task. Still, others prefer studying somewhere like a café or library, or even outside.
It might take some time to discover what works best for you, so don’t be discouraged if you stumble when first creating new study habits in a new location. Experimentation is part of the process, and that makes it part of good study habits.
4. Spread The Workload
The stress and panic that comes from having to get a lot of stuff done can cause people to try and get everything done at once. This is a bad idea because, according to EducationCorner, “Successful students typically space their work out over shorter periods of time and rarely try to cram all of their studying into just one or two sessions. If you want to become a successful student, then you need to learn to be consistent in your studies and to have regular, yet shorter, study periods.”
Obviously, others can benefit from such efforts as well. It’s noted by Central Michigan that “If you try to do too much studying at one time, you will tire, and your studying will not be very effective. Space the work you have to do over shorter periods of time.” Trying to force content all at once makes it extremely difficult to focus, so no matter what you manage to get done, the odds are good it won’t get done very well.
It also makes it harder to retain what you studied, which will just make reviewing that much harder and take that much longer. In order to avoid cramming, study in smaller chunks of time and take short breaks if you feel you’re starting to have a hard time continuing with the work. Study sessions themselves shouldn’t be more than half an hour, and even fifteen minutes can help get work done. Breaks of around five minutes are a good idea too, to give you a chance to take a brief walk or make a quick cup of tea.
Again, what works best for you is up to you, so feel free to experiment a few times to figure out what works best for you. Don’t be discouraged if it slows developing study habits at first while you find your stride.
5. Don’t Procrastinate
This one can make the start of any study habits grind to a halt. The temptation to put off studying, even as part of a scheduled plan, makes it that much harder to get the routine started. Getting a routine going can take work, maintaining one is relatively easy, but breaking them can be even easier. As noted by Central Michigan, “If you procrastinate for any reason, you will find it difficult to get everything done when you need to. You may rush to make up the time you wasted getting started, resulting in careless work and errors.”
As unpleasant as good study habits might be, or as much as you might dislike a certain subject or topic, it must be done. Breaking a good habit is a lot easier than breaking a bad one, so it takes time and effort to build up the habit of studying regularly. Trying to put it off prevents that routine from building, which obviously makes it harder to get the study habits formed in the first place.
There are naturally exceptions. In the event of an emergency or whatnot, postponing studying is of course fine. Just make sure to keep to the habit when there isn’t an emergency. Procrastination is in itself a bad habit, so stick to effective study habits on schedule to help break that bad habit by starting a good one.
It can be dull, annoying, and tedious, but reviewing before and after studying is important to creating strong study habits. EducationCorner notes that “Before you start each study session, and before you start a particular assignment, review your notes thoroughly to make sure you know how to complete the assignment correctly. Reviewing your notes before each study session will help you remember important subject matter learned during the day, and make sure your studying is targeted and effective.”
Reviewing is important as for effective study habits because not only does it make it easier to pick up where you left off from the last session, it also helps you retain and better connect the dots of what you’re studying. This is why it’s a good idea to review at the start and end of any session.
One trick when reviewing is not to obsess over it. Just a few minutes before and after a study session can prove a big help. If you want to have a dedicated review session, that’s perfectly fine once in a while, too. Such sessions are useful after completing a large chunk of content that you need to look over, either in preparation for a worksheet or exam or because it’s relevant to early or upcoming material.
7. Start with the Hard Stuff
This one is probably the study habits that everyone hates to hear. Despite people’s aversion to this habit, it works. Tackling your least favorite subject or material first is important because, as noted by EducationCorner, “As your most difficult assignment or subject will require the most effort and mental energy, you should start with it first. Once you’ve completed the most difficult work, it will be much easier to complete the rest of your work. Believe it or not, starting with the most difficult subject will greatly improve the effectiveness of your study sessions, and your academic performance.”
You might be tempted to put off your least favorite subject for later, but that is in fact a form of procrastination. Since it’s already been noted that procrastination is bad, that should be plenty of reason to grit your teeth and tackle the difficult stuff first. It may not be fun, but it is necessary to learn the material.
8. Study Groups Can Work
Some people prefer studying together for effective study habits. In can work for some, as EducationCorner notes that “Working in groups enables you to:
- Get help from others when you’re struggling to understand a concept.
- Complete assignments more quickly.
- Teach others, whereby helping both the other students and yourself to internalize the subject matter.
However, study groups can become very ineffective if they’re not structured and if group members come unprepared. Effective students use study groups effectively.”
The trick with study groups, as noted previously, is to do it right. Getting together with your friends to study can lead to distraction. Distractions are bad when trying to form good study habits, obviously. They slow down the learning process and can make it hard to retain the material. Though study groups can be a great help for coordinating, comparing, and compiling information, you need to stay focused on studying while in the group. Otherwise, it’s just you hanging out with your friends. That might be fun, but it doesn’t get the material learned.
9. Study While Studying
This one might seem obvious, but make sure when studying to actually focus on studying. Don’t flip through social media or answer texts while working on the material, except during breaks. LearningCenter notes that “Social media, web browsing, game playing, texting, etc. will severely affect the intensity of your study sessions if you allow them! Research is clear that multi-tasking (e.g., responding to texts, while studying), increases the amount of time needed to learn material and decreases the quality of the learning.”
They go on to say that you should “Eliminating the distractions will allow you to fully engage during your study sessions. If you don’t need your computer for homework, then don’t use it. Use apps to help you set limits on the amount of time you can spend at certain sites during the day.”
There’s nothing wrong with taking breaks during a study session. In fact, they’re an important part of the process, especially during a longer session. What is bad is when you let yourself get too distracted on matters and materials not related to studying. Focusing can be harder for some than others, so don’t be afraid to get some advice or help if you find yourself really struggling to focus.
Trying to remove distractions works better for some than for others, so you may need to experiment to find the right way to avoid distractions and stay focused on studying.
As noted by EducationCorner, “Everyone gets distracted by something. Maybe it’s the TV. Or maybe it’s your family. Or maybe it’s just too quiet. Some people actually study better with a little background noise. When you’re distracted while studying you (1) lose your train of thought and (2) are unable to focus — both of which will lead to very ineffective studying. Before you start studying, find a place where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. For some people this is a quiet cubicle in the recesses of the library. For others it is in a common area where there is a little background noise.”
As mentioned early, some experimentation may be needed to find the ideal place and way to stay focused during your studies. This may result in a bit of stumbling in your schedule, but as long as you stick to the routine and find what keeps you focused, sticking to your studies will prove easier in the long run.
Effective study habits aren’t that hard to achieve on paper. In practice is when these study habits can be tricky. It’s easy enough to say that you need to work on the hard stuff first, review before and after every session, and avoid texts from your friends. It can be a lot harder to put those lessons into practice.
Building a study habit can take some time, and that time tends to discourage people from sticking to the habit. Good habits need to be built and are easily destroyed. That’s why you have to create schedule, have specific study goals, and make sure you maintain that study schedule. Effective study habits don’t have to be some massive hurdle. They can be little things that build up into an effective study strategy over time. Finding what works for you is a process, but it is in a way its own form of studying. As long as you stick to it and find what works, you can achieve successful study habits as well.
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